“They Were Her Property” by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

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Thanks to Yale University Press and NetGalley for providing me with an Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is an important book in a much-overlooked topic. All too often in historical writing we see white women being given a free pass when it comes to their culpability for the horrors of slavery. This book seeks to set the record straight and change our assumptions about antebellum women slave-owners.

I have recently read The Book of Night Women which although set in the Caribbean and not the United States, featured more than a few reprehensible ‘mistresses’ of the house. The cruelty of these women towards their slaves did not just exist in the reals of fiction, as Stephanie Jones-Rogers explains in this book.

The book is extensively and exhaustively researched and draws on a wealth of different primary sources. Slaves were often the main source of personal wealth for wealthy white women in the South and these women participated fully in buying and selling slaves. They had an in depth understanding of their worth and used their slaves to enhance and maintain their economic power, often keeping this source of wealth separate from their husbands as a rather grim form of nest egg.

The book makes for difficult reading as all books about the inhumanity of slavery do. It is important however to highlight that women can be just as evil and calculating as men and that there is a responsibility not to whitewash their contribution to maintaining and benefiting from slavery.

The quality of the research makes this a great resource to use in classrooms and for further study of the subject. I’d recommend this book to both fellow History teachers as well as anyone who is interested in reading more about the subject. Although the subject is a difficult one, the writing itself is accessible and suitable for a multitude of audiences. This book will still with you a long time after reading it and I highly recommend doing so.

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